Will Heaven solve our problems?

“Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet. We shall see that there never was any problem” (C. S. Lewis, “A Grief Observed,” p. 55).

 The “problem” of evil

“Whenever we are confronted with something utterly and dreadfully evil, appallingly wicked, or just plain tragic, we should resist the temptation that is wrapped up in the cry, ‘Where’s the sense in that?’

It’s not that we get no answer. We get silence. And that silence is the answer to our question. There is no sense. And that is a good thing too.”

“This may seem a lame response to evil. Are we merely to gag our questions, accept that it’s a mystery, and shut up? Surely we do far more from that? Yes, indeed. We grieve. We weep. We lament. We protest. We scream in pain and anger. We cry out, ‘How long must this kind of thing go on?’”

“As both rational and moral beings, made in the image of God, we want things to make sense. We have an innate drive, an insatiable desire, and almost infinite ability to organize and order the world in the process of understanding it. To understand things means to integrate them into their proper place in the universe, to provide a justified, legitimate and truthful place within creation for everything we encounter. We instinctively seek to establish order, to make sense, to find reasons and purposes, to validate things and thus explain them”

“All of us struggle to make sense of the presence of evil in the midst of God’s good creation (though perhaps we are not meant to, and never can, ‘make sense’ of evil; the very essence of evil is the negation of all goodness—and ‘sense’ is a good thing. In the end, evil does not and cannot make sense.”

“But evil, at least of the kind that seems to serve no higher purpose or is not necessary to accomplish some equal or greater good, makes no sense. It did not belong to God’s original good creation and will not belong to God’s new creation.”

  • “The Bible compels us to accept that there is a mysteriousness about evil that we simply cannot understand (and it is good we cannot).”
  • “The Bible allows us to lament, protest, and be angry at the offensiveness of evil (and it is right that we should).”

(from: Christopher J. H. Wright, The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith).

Christ appears in Heaven for us!

When the apostle encouraged us to “set our affections on the realities of heaven,” he specifically identified it as the place “where Christ sits at God’s right hand.” 

“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands… he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Hebrews 9:24).

 What makes heaven so desirable is not the absence of anguish and suffering (as great as this will be), nor the presence of angels and fellow believers. Heaven is so desirable because it is the place “where Christ sits at God’s right hand.”

The apostle Paul spoke about his death with this perspective. “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23).

After Jesus finished His mission of bearing our sins and being raised from the dead, He returned to heaven and took the seat of highest honor to appear before God “for us.” These two words “for us” are amazing!

In the highest court, those who know Christ as their Savior are represented. Let these words settle deeply into your heart: “Christ went into heaven itself to appear in the presence of God for us.”

In Colossians 3:3-4, the apostle reinforced his call to focus on heaven by writing: “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”

Reflection

“The Christian’s whole and only status before God is in Christ. True and wonderful though this is, however, the sphere of the Christian’s existence is still here on earth. He is still beset by temptations; he is hampered by weakness and frustrated by failings; he falls short of ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13); the perfection for which he longs is not yet. He needs a holiness not his own, made available to him by the Lamb of God who has made atonement for his sins and who now interposes himself as his representative in the heavenly sanctuary. And this is the representation which Christ fulfills as he appears in the presence of God for us” (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, p. 349).

For deeper meditation on Christ’s representation, see: Romans 8:33-34; Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:23-27; John 2:1-2. The apostle John said those who confess their sin (I John 1:9), have an “advocate” with the heavenly father (I John 2:2). The N.I.V. translates advocate as, “one who speaks to the Father in our defense.” It pictures a legal setting with Christ as counsel for the defense. And His position as advocate is based on His redeeming work (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5-6).

“Our advocate doesn’t plead that we are innocent…He acknowledges our guilt and presents His vicarious work as the ground for our acquittal” (John R. W. Stott, I John, TNTC, pp. 81-82).

We must guard against misguided understandings of representation. We should not picture a dualistic situation where a well-pleasing son is trying to persuade a hostile father to look on us with favor. God was the one who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (II Corinthians 5:18-21).  God “spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32; cf. 1 John 4:9-10).

Reflection

“The intercession of the Son, then, is in no sense a pleading with the Father to change his attitude toward us. Nor does the Father have to be reminded of the full redemption that he himself has provided for us in his Son—the very thought is preposterous! The presence in heaven of the Lamb bearing the marks of his passion is itself the perpetual guarantee of our acceptance with God, who gave his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. In ourselves, however, though we have the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ and though we are united to him in love and trust, we are unworthy because Christ has not yet been fully formed within us (cf. Gal. 4:19) and we still sinfully fall short of the glory of God (cf. Rom. 3:23). This consideration explains our continuing need of the advocacy and intercession of him who alone is accounted worthy before God (cf. Rev. 5:1-10). It is in his worthiness that even now we rejoice in the blessings of the divine favor, for by the grace of God his merit has been reckoned to us as our merit, his heaven has become our heaven, and his eternal glory our eternal glory” (Philip Hughes, Hebrews).

 Do we need the assistance of saints or angels to bring us to God?

“To imagine that saints or angels can be influenced to intercede for us is not only delusion; it is to cast doubt on the perfect adequacy of the intercession of Christ on our behalf and thus to deprive ourselves of the fulness of the security which is available to us only in Christ. Our Lord clearly taught that no man can come to the Father except by him (John 14:6) and that our requests to God are to be made in his name (John 14:13f.; 15:16; 16:23, 24, 26), precisely because there is no other name which avails and prevails with God (cf. Acts 4:12) (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, p. 353).

Christ alone is our mediator, advocate, intercessor, high priest, and way of access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; John 14:6). “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He (Jesus Christ) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2; cf. Hebrews 7:26-27). “And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:18). 

Let your heart dwell on these great words: “Christ went into heaven to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24).

Steve Cornell 

 

Are you poor in Spirit?

What did Jesus mean when he declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”? Does this refer to actual poverty or spiritual humility? Does “blessed” mean “happy”? How could the poor be blessed?

Blessed or happy?

We should not equate being “blessed” with being “happy.” Jesus was not making statements about the emotional well-being of people. Western culture is preoccupied with analyzing moods and feelings, whereas being “blessed” is much deeper than an assessment of emotion.

 Jesus’ use of “blessed” is better understood as a declaration of divine approval. “Blessed (of God)” are the poor in spirit. After all, Jesus is the one making the declarations.

The eight beatitudes are the qualities of the true disciples of Jesus. What does a true believer look like? — He is poor in spirit; he mourns; he is meek… I agree with the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones in seeing these as progressive spiritual experiences with lasting transformations of character.

Jesus described those who will inhabit heaven 

The eight beatitudes are sandwiched in a literary envelop between the repeated phrase “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This offers insight into the kind of people who make up the citizens of heaven. Who will inhabit heaven? Look at the beatitudes. This is true Christianity. Whatever superficial substitute you’ve seen, it must be measured by these qualities.

The meaning of poor in spirit

Blessed — approved of God — are the poor in spirit. To be poor in spirit is to recognize one’s spiritual bankruptcy before God. It is to stand before God, broken and empty without anything to commend ourselves to His approval.

The poor in spirit are like the man described by Jesus who beat himself on the chest and plead for God’s mercy. “I tell you,” Jesus said elsewhere, “that the this man who identified himself as a sinner in need of God’s mercy “went home justified before God.” Then our Lord said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14).

The opposite of the poor in spirit is the proud in spirit. And since we know that God resists the proud (I Peter 5:5-6), we may be confident that nothing of spiritual consequence happens apart from poverty of spirit. God is near to those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18) and he “guides the humble in  what is right and teaches them His way” (Psalm 25:9). This is why the poor in spirit are blessed! 

Character precedes influence

It is important to notice how Jesus shifted from third person address (”theirs” is…”they” shall….) in Matthew 5:3-12 – to second person address in Matthew 5:13-16 - “You” are the salt of the earth; “You” are the light of the world. Who is Jesus talking about here? Who is salt and light? The ones he described in the beatitudes. They fulfill the role of salt and light? 

“Poor” vs. “Poor in spirit”

Luke’s gospel uses a socio-economic designation without the spiritual addition – “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). This fits with an overall emphasis in the gospel of Luke on God’s concern for the lowly and it’s taught in other places as well.

  • “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5).
  • “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. ( I Corinthians 1:26-29).

Why is it that material need often helps us to see deeper needs? Blessed are the poor/poor in spirit!

Steve Cornell

Longing for a better world

As we honor those who served and currently serve the armed forces of our nation, I find myself longing for a world without the need for military.

Obviously this world will never be without such a need. But have you ever given serious thought to why our world is so filled with evil and violence? Why can’t people get along and relate peacefully with one another?

No, I am not getting ready to sing what the world needs now is love, sweet love. But the endless wars that make up so much of world history are a sad reminder of our fallen condition. And most people intuitively feel that things are not the way they were meant to be.

The human story is certainly more one of war than peace. Someone cynically suggested, “Peace is that glorious moment in history when everyone stops to reload.”

Telling our story requires contrasting terms between goodness and evil; love and hate; beauty and cruelty; life and death; even war and peace. Themes of dignity and depravity are relentlessly recurrent in all cultures – at all times throughout history.

There are surprisingly few places to turn for thoughtful answers to why things are this way. Most efforts to explain good and evil are either based on scientific reductionism or naïve utopianism. I have only found one source to be wide enough to explain the complex dimensions of the human story and large enough to speak to innate longings of the human heart for a better world.

The source I have found most helpful is popular but not well understood — even among those who feel surprisingly justified in rejecting it. Mere mention of this source in academic settings typically invokes condescending reactions. Those who take the source seriously are wrongly treated as unenlightened and narrow-minded. Yet those who react this way rarely offer thoughtful alternatives for the dilemma of good and evil.

The source I look to offers truths that range from simple and accessible, to complex and mysterious. It speaks to a child and challenges a scholar. It covers the physical and the metaphysical. It reaches both time and eternity. It tells us where we came from; why we’re here and what went wrong. It addresses universal longings for peace and goodness by revealing where to find hope for a better future. It speaks deeply to universal human needs for forgiveness, freedom, and peace.

It is the most widely circulated and best-selling book of history. It’s main character came from eternity to humble earthly circumstances and died a brutal death. His death, we are repeatedly told, was a redemptive sacrifice for all people.

He transformed countless individual lives and human history itself more than any other person who has lived. He introduced himself as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, who is, who was and who is to come. He said, “I was dead and behold I am alive forever and ever” (Revelation 1:18). The source is the Bible and the main character is Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ remains the most amazing person who ever lived on this planet. Although born in obscurity over 2,000 years ago, the world can’t escape his legacy and global influence. No individual comes close to the impact Jesus made on humanity.

Jesus Christ is so amazing that he can only be fully explained by use of terms that defy normal categories.  We need terms that reach beyond our reality and shatter many of our common assumptions. Jesus,

  • fulfilled ancient prophecies in his birth, life and death?
  • predicted his own death and resurrection?
  • claimed to exist before Abraham was born?
  • claimed the right to forgive sins?
  • claimed that he would be the judge of all people?
  • claimed eternal duration for his words?
  • claimed equality with God?
  • claimed the ability to give eternal life to those who believe on him?

He is too much for us to fully wrap our minds around. His existence demands a God who breaks in on the natural order. Jesus Christ is so extraordinarily unprecedented that he shatters our categories and demands our worship.

Some people find the central message about Jesus a bit difficult to accept because it involves exclusive claims about the only way to God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the father but through me” (John 14:6). “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” (I Timothy 2:6)

The sacrificial death of Jesus is repeatedly emphasized as something offered for the sins of the world, for all men; for the whole world (see: John 3:16,17; I John 2:1-2), but this inclusive demonstration of God’s love is the only way to be forgiven and accepted by God.

There is a better world coming where there will be no more war; no more need for military.

So while I give thanks for the faithful men and women who serve our nation, I long for “a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’ And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.’ And he also said, ‘It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.’”

Heaven is our point of reference! Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But we must not stand gazing into heaven because there is work to be done for the honor of God’s name, the advancement of God’s kingdom and the fulfillment of God’s will.

Steve Cornell

Meeting the God of all comfort

In a couple of weeks, I will speak at a conference on the theme “Meeting the God of all comfort in our trials.” My text will be the book of II Corinthians.

In the opening verses, we find an invitation to praise the God of all comfort.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (II Corinthians 1:3-4).

I realize that trials take many forms, but when it comes to physical and emotional suffering, it’s easy to become accustom to faster solutions than previous generations experienced. Amazing advancements in science and medicine have strengthened our expectations for quick resolution to our pain.

But how do we respond when doctors are unable to accurately diagnose our condition? Do we become more impatient when we believe that technology and medicine should be able to get to the root of our needs?

What happens to us when we have unrealistic expectation for health and emotional happiness? Are we more easily disappointed and discouraged? And do our expectations of technology and science sometimes cloud our engagement with the God of all comfort? 

This kind of disposition toward suffering could also cause us lose touch with the considerable emphasis in Scripture on the role of sadness and suffering in life with God.

These are not theoretical issues for me. When my father (who recently passed away) came down with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis in his mid-thirties, I learned what it meant to carry a burden for a suffering loved one. I was only about 12 years old but it profoundly shaped my life. I learned so much about God’s sustaining grace and His redeeming power to bring good out of pain and suffering.

I continued to learn about the role of trials in a more personal way when I prepared for pastoral ministry. At the beginning of the journey, a pastor reminded me that those whom God uses greatly, He tests greatly. I had no idea at the time what this meant but now I understand. Further, as a pastor with almost 30 years in ministry, I have walked with many people through all kinds of trials and suffering. 

Some key Scriptures that have carried me: II Corinthians 1:3-114:16-18;12:1-10;James 1:2-9Psalm 62:8Proverbs 3:5-6

When faced with difficult and unexplainable trials, I look to the God of all comfort who comforts us in our troubles. I’ve learned to trust that suffering has a greater purpose even when I cannot see it. I pray with one eye on the back-story of human depravity and another (by faith) on our hope-filled expectation of the glorious end-story for forgiven sinners like me (see: Colossians 3:1-4). 

Normal Christian living involves groaning inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).

When God’s loved ones enter the place He has prepared for them, ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-6; John 14:1-3).

I find myself longing more and more for this day; for this place and for our God.

Steve Cornell

(See: The danger of hot tub religion)

A challenging week ahead

This will be a challenging week for me as I plan to attend a memorial service for my first pastor, mentor and friend in ministry, Dr. Richard Gregory and, later in the week, I plan to lead a memorial service for my Dad.

These are the two men who no doubt had the most influence in my life. I feel too numb to know what I feel right now (does that make sense?). I am sure the waves will hit. Yet I also feel a mantle of responsibility to carry on in the work in their absence.

I draw comfort in the great promises of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He said, “Because I live you also will live” (John 14:19), “… everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40). Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave” (Revelation 1:17-18).

Other Scriptures I find helpful 

  • But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (Acts 20:24). 
  • “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24).
  • “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).
  • “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all of the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:3)
  • “Whom have I in heaven by you? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides you…God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26.)

Those who belong to Jesus should adopt the perspective described in Romans 14:8, “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” The reason we have this understanding of living and dying is that, Jesus “died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep (i.e. alive or dead), we may live together with him” (I Thessalonians 5:10).

 Steve Cornell
 

The few years that we live in this body

“Christianity is, among other things, the wonderfully good news that this life is not our whole story… The few years that we live in this body… are a kind of pilgrimage, a sojourn, a preparatory trip on the way to something much greater. For the Christian, this present existence is provisional. He is aware that every activity he undertakes is schooling for something else — that it is all directed toward a higher end.”

“For a person whose roots have been thoroughly transplanted from the present soil into that of eternity, who dances lightly on the surface of the earth and so is ready to leave at a moment’s notice, there would be little point in dwelling on the thought of death. Sad to say, however, this mind-set is rarely to be found among those who profess Christianity. Most churchgoers are as deeply rooted in this world, and thus as deeply in despair, as those who profess no such hope. Far from being an exercise in morbidity, a deepening acquaintance with our death and with the vanity of human wishes is for our worldly hearts a needed path to perfect health” (Robert C. Roberts, Spirituality and Human Emotion).

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).

Steve Cornell

Heaven: A place beyond 

 

 

Good-bye for now Dad

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Today I was given yet another reason to look forward to heaven. At 11:30 AM my mother called to tell me that my father passed away (picture to the right is my dad and our daughter).

Just four days earlier, I received a call in the evening to tell me that my pastor, mentor and friend (Dr. Richard Gregory) passed away.

Many years ago, Pastor Gregory led my dad to Christ. It was a result of what he always considered one of his worse sermons. He and my dad were the same age. I love the thought that they can now fellowship together in heaven with their Lord and Savior!

As the oldest son of eleven children (with seven boys), I was always amazed at my dad’s perseverance in providing for what many would consider three families. And he did this under great trial because in his mid thirties he was afflicted with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis. His badly bent up hands will always be remembered because he often held them out to tell others of God’s grace in his life.

Not knowing that my Dad was soon to pass away, I did a message last week and will continue this week on his life verse – II Corinthians 12:9 - “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’”

I took some time today to revisit some truths about life, death and eternity. Great comfort is found in these truths

The Heidelberg catechism asks, “What is your only comfort in life and in death? Answer: “That I am not my own, but belong body and soul to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.”

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (I Corinthians 6:19-20).

Those who take the promises of Scripture seriously know that there is never a loss of personhood and consciousness with death — only the temporary death of a body.

Scripture specifically states that, “the body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). By spirit, it could refer to “breath” or in keeping with the way Scripture views humans, as the immaterial part of our being separating from the material — the departure of the inner person from the outer body.

When Jesus died, he cried out, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” and breathed his last breath and died (Luke 23:46). His body was laid in a grave, when he was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (I Peter 3:18).

The distinction between inner person and body:

Philippians 1:21-24 “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”

II Corinthians 5:6-8 “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (with 4:16-18)

7 truths about death

  1. Death is a curse - Death, according to Christian teaching, is the result of a curse on humanity because of our rejection of the rule of our Creator. With vivid description, God declared that humans must “return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). This has been the experience of all people from the time it was announced.
  2. Death is a penalty for sin – “For the wages of sin is death….” (Romans 6:23)
  3. Death is an inheritance - “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
  4. Death is an enemy - Death is an enemy and a thief – not a welcomed friend. Death is a separator. It brings things to an end and removes loved ones from our presence. But gratefully, our Creator did not allow death to have the final word. Jeremiah the prophet animated death when he wrote: “Death has climbed through the windows and has entered our fortress; it has cut off the children from the streets and the young men from the public squares.”  (Jer. 9:21). In a sense the apostle Paul also animated death when referring to is as: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  (1 Cor. 15:26). Death is an enemy that stalks and threatens us.
  5. Death is agony - “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:24)
  6. Death is a spiritual and a physical reality - “As for you, you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you used to live …. We were dead in transgressions…” (Eph. 2:1-2, 5)
  7. Death occurs twice for unbelievers - “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15; 21:8).

Should we expect to live after our earthly lives end?

The story of Jesus didn’t end with death because, “God raised him up putting an end to the agony of death since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24). And because Jesus broke the power of death, those who trust him as their Savior rest confidently in his promise, “my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:39-40).

Based on this promise, I expect to be resurrected one day. But when I say I expect to be resurrected, I am not merely saying I expect to live after the death of my physical body. Resurrection is more than life after death. Resurrection is life after life after death. Yes, you read that correctly. Resurrection is bodily life after life after death. It’s postmortem existence stage two. I expect to return to identifiable bodily existence just as Jesus returned (see: Philippians 3:20). I expect the same for my Dad and former pastor. 

Six major points of biblical history support the importance of the body.

  1. Creation: God fashions the body from the dust of the earth
  2. Incarnation: God became man
  3. Resurrection (Christ’s and ours)
  4. Ascension: Jesus retained bodily existence at the Father’s right hand
  5. Salvation: The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit
  6. Glorification: Final redemption of the body (Romans 8 )

If we take Jesus Christ at his word, everyone who has lived should expect to be resurrected. Jesus said, “a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29).

7 Great truths about heaven

  1. Heaven is a place of unhindered fellowship with God.
  2. Heaven is a place where we always do what pleases God.
  3. Heaven is a place of unhindered fellowship with believers. No more conflicts!
  4. Heaven is eternal — no separation in heaven.
  5. Heaven is home to Jesus our Savior, the Holy Spirit our comforter and the Father of mercies.
  6. Heaven is beautiful beyond comparison: It’s architect and builder is God (see: Revelation 4:1-6).
  7. Heaven is a place of unimaginable joy! (see: Psalm 16:11; Luke 15:10)

Here I rest and here I flourish — in living and dying and anticipating a reunion with those who go before. 

To God be the glory!

Steve Cornell

See: 

A Closer look at Hope

shining_hope

The Nature of Christian Hope

1. Hope is a response – of those who have experienced the mercy of God’s loving intervention and by faith embraced the certainty of God’s promises for the future.
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  • I Peter 1:3-4 –

“In His great mercy God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.”

  • Hebrews 6:18-19

“So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.”

2. Hope is a choice – to focus on the certainty of God’s promised future
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  • I Peter 1:13

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.”

  • Colossians 3:1-2

“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.”

  • Philippians 3:19-21

In contrast with those “who set their minds on earthly things…. our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”

3. Hope is a calling 

  • Romans 12:12

  “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

  • Psalm 42:5, 11

  “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God,”

4. The prayers for hope

  • Romans 15:13

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

  • Ephesians 1:16-19

“I do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” 

5. The certainty of hope

  • The hope of the believer is not wishful thinking but confident expectation; not based on probability, but on certainty. Not only a blessing in this life, but assurance of greater life in eternity (Romans 8:18). 
  • Hope flourishes where there is belief in the living God who acts and intervenes in human life and who can be trusted to keep his promises.

6. The reach of hope

  • I Corinthians 15:19

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

This life? Is there another one? Yes, resurrected life! If you just know Jesus so that you can have a better day or week or earthly life, pity you! The focus of hope is so much more!

  • Colossians 1:4-5

“because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel”

  • Colossians 1:27

“Christ in you, the hope of glory.

  • Titus 2:13-14

“….waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us…” 

7. The development of hope

  • Romans 5:2-5

“Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

  • Romans 8:24-25

“For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 

8. The purifying effect of hope

  • I John 3:2-3

“we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

9. The witness of hope

  • I Peter 3:14-15

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”

10. A loss of hope

  • Loss of hope involves a loss of perspective resulting from a loss of focus.
  • When we disconnect our ambitions, values and priorities from eternity, we lose focus and perspective. Hope (of the kind found in Scripture) traces a clear line from your life to:
    • the fame of God’s Name,
    • the coming of God’s Kingdom and
    • the doing of God’s Will — on earth as it is in heaven?
  • Hope is typically transferred to another source when no longer focused on eternity
    • Jeremiah 17:5-8

“This is what the Lord says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.”

  • The remedy for a loss or transfer of hope is found in these verses:
    • II Corinthians 4:16-18

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Steve Cornell

Who will live forever in the dwelling place of God?

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Do we have any way to know who will be in heaven? Who will live forever in the dwelling place of God – with their Creator and Redeemer?

It seems far too easy (and perhaps less disturbing) to attach our hearts to reassuring clichés on this matter. We say, “Only those who accept Jesus as Savior go to heaven.” Or, “Only those who believe in the gospel go to heaven.”

These are not necessarily wrong statements but they possibly conceal something Jesus revealed. 

Here we must be careful because Jesus did not separate matters as sharply as our doctrinal statements sometimes  do.

Case in point

When the disciples asked Jesus about greatness in the kingdom (Matthew 18:1), Jesus made one of what are called his entrance sayings.” These are specific statements about who will enter the kingdom of heaven. (It will do no good to separate kingdom and salvation as if you could have salvation without entering the kingdom).

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2).

This is similar to what Jesus said at the beginning of His sermon on the mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). 

But if we said that only those who are humble will be in heaven, do we condition salvation and eternity in heaven on human effort? Doesn’t the Bible teach that God’s salvation is a gift and not based on works that we do? (see: Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).

In Matthew 5:20, Jesus shocked his audience with another entrance saying, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (cf. Matthew 7:21; 18:8,9; 19:17, 24; 25:21,23).

We must not read the teaching about the imputed righteousness of Jesus (taught in the epistles) back into this saying. Nothing would have been further from the minds of those who heard Jesus. 

Instead, what Jesus intended in His demand for “surpassing righteousness” becomes clear in Matthew 6:1 – ““Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.” Don’t prostitute what is sacred to promote yourself. Heavens inhabitants resist image promotion and ego-building.

The mindset of the kingdom is concerned with being seen by the father in secret not recognition and honor from people.

Humility does not come naturally:

None of this is natural to us. That’s why Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Only the path of self-humbling leads to the kingdom. And greatness in the Kingdom of heaven is the opposite of greatness in earthly kingdoms Jesus said, “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4).

Becoming childlike is not a reference to being innocent as a child or having the simple faith of a child. Jesus is dealing with love for status. Children were a cultural example of non-status and mostly exhibited unconcern for status.

Jesus is simply emphasizing the attitude of truly redeemed people (cf. Isaiah 66:1-2). ”God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5).

Interestingly, Jesus used the present tense: “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”–not “will be” but “is.”

This implies a continuity of disposition between now and a time to come– the disposition of the redeemed.

Socio-economic and Spiritual:

In the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Luke, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20). In Matthews account, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Luke used socio-economic categories. Matthew used spiritual categories. Is there a relationship? Do riches push people away from God? Does wealth lead to a self-sufficient pride?

“Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5).

“God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (I Corinthians 1:27-29).

What a great place heaven will be!

Heaven is open to the poor in spirit and closed to the proud in spirit. God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Yet humility seems so out of reach. The moment you think you’ve attained it, you’ve lost it. And it’s possible to be so humble that you’re proud of it.

The Puritans wisely suggested that even in our repentance there is likely something to repent about — how proud we are for being so repentant! Is the starting point of true repentance found in repenting of our repentance. Sound confusing? It doesn’t to repentant people.

“Unless people sense their guilt and helplessness to save themselves…, the wonder and availability of God’s grace will not move them” (D. A. Carson).

Should we say that humility begins when we know we don’t possess it and cannot attain to it? Can one ever really know he has reached a state of humility? Would this matter to humble people? Our cry must remain: “God be merciful to me the sinner.”

When Martin Luther dedicated his life to be lived as a monk and offered his first communion he was profoundly overwhelmed with a sense of his own sinfulness in view of the greatness of God and the sacrifice of Christ. When he came to the words, “We offer unto Thee, the living, the true, the eternal God,” he was suddenly filled with terror. “Who am I that I should lift my eyes or raise my hands to the divine Majesty?” he thought. “The angels surround Him.  At His nod the earth trembles.  And shall I, a miserable little pygmy, say ‘I want this, I ask for that’?  For I am dust and ashes and full of sin, and I am speaking to the living, eternal, and true God.”

This is poverty of spirit!

It’s a person’s attitude toward himself before God as he recognizes his spiritually bankrupt condition. It’s an awareness that he has no claim before God beyond a cry for mercy.

Llyod-Jones said of the poor in spirit that he is truly amazed that God and man would think of him and treat him as well as they do. Contrast that with the attitude of entitlement that permeates affluent cultures. Then compare it with the attitude of those welcomed into the kingdom in Matthew 25:34-40.

This attitude is observed in Isaiah when he encountered the Holy God, high and lifted up—and responded in personal devastation, “Woe is me for I am undone…” Upon receiving a fuller understanding of the holy character of God, Job cowered back and said, “I have heard of you with the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you, therefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Peter said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8).

Prior to his conversion, Augustine wrote, “I grew more wretched as Thou didst grow nearer”? The apostle stated it clearly: “Oh wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). There is only one answer: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).

Probing questions:

  1. What are the consequences of the absence of poverty of spirit among those who profess to be the people of God?
  2. Have we lost our sense of awe at the terror of the great and awesome God?
  3. Has this loss been behind our sense of liberty to cut moral corners, to trivialize our sins, to demand our rights—to question God’s Word and authority—to write off guilt as a feeling God would not inflict on us?

“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).

“God-fearing people have a dreadful love for God, and awe-filled love that knows God is not mocked, that we reap whatever we sow, that God is not to be fooled with, scorned, or ignored but trusted, loved and obeyed. Everything wise and righteous is built on this unshakable foundation. Fear and love must go together. God-fearing people know that God’s first project in the world is not to make us happy and that we will gain happiness only after we have renounced our right to it. ‘For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it’” (Mark 8:35) (Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to be)

Steve Cornell

Short audio: The dress code for Church